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Operacion Puerto judge restricting case to health issue

  • By Andrew Hood
  • Published Feb. 1, 2013

MADRID (VN) — The opening days of testimony in the Operación Puerto case have confirmed the worst fears of anyone expecting revelations.

The presiding judge has left no doubt that doping is not on trial, but rather the relatively minor charges of “endangering public health.”

Julia Patricia Santamaría made that crystal clear during the potentially explosive testimony from Puerto ringleader Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes in the opening days of the two-month trial.

On Tuesday, Fuentes openly admitted his client list included other sports beyond cycling, naming athletics, tennis, soccer and even boxing.

On Wednesday, Fuentes offered to name all of his clients, saying that he remembered every codename as well as indicating he had a ledger locked away in a safe back on the Canary Islands.

When attorneys representing WADA and CONI both pressed Fuentes for more names, the judge hit the brakes.

There was no anti-doping law on the books during the May 2006 raids and Spanish courts have refused to widen the legal net to anything beyond questions of endangering public health, which could result in minor fines, suspended jail terms and the suspension of medical licenses for Fuentes and his sister.

That interpretation has infuriated many who view the Puerto case as nothing more than a farce.

That theme continued when the hearing resumed Friday. When attorneys representing Manolo Saíz queried ex-Kelme director Vicente Belda about relations between Tyler Hamilton and Bjarne Riis, the judge once again said the questions were not relevant to the case.

So far, the two prosecutors representing the Spanish government have limited their line of questioning to the specific issues of how blood transfusions were carried out and whether they represented a health risk to Fuentes’ clients.

Lawyers representing other agencies involved in the case, such as WADA, CONI and ex-rider Jesus Manzano, have pressed harder for more information, including names and other sports.

Fuentes and other witnesses, such as Yolanda Fuentes and Ignacio Labarta, however, have all exercised their right not to answer when questions strayed from the narrow focus of the prosecutors’ line of questioning.

Spanish anti-doping authorities say they are pressing for access to 200 bags of plasma and blood still stored in a Barcelona freezer.

Speaking to VeloNews, the director of the Spanish anti-doping agency said they hope to get access to the blood bags sooner or later.

“We want the truth,” said Ana Muñoz, director of the Agencía Estatal Anti-Dopaje. “We are petitioning the court for access to the blood bags.”

On Tuesday, Santamaría said Spanish authorities and WADA would have until Friday to provide a written petition outlining why they want the bags. She did not indicate when she would rule on that petition.

What Muñoz could do with the bags remains to be seen. Without the code names from Fuentes, it would be difficult to try to match the unknown bags to anyone.

Plus, a statute of limitations in most cases caps sporting bans at eight years. With the police raids dating back to May 2006, time is running out for handing down sanctions.

Muñoz admitted as much, but said the new Spanish government, which came to power in 2012, will continue to pressure the courts for more information.

“Spain cannot be different in anti-doping,” she said. “Things have changed in Spain. Our government has taken a different tack. We have to respect the judge, but we want more information.”

On Friday, former sport directors Manolo Saíz (Liberty Seguros) and Vicente Belda (Kelme/Comunidad Valenciana) were scheduled for questioning.

Next week, testimony will continue with agents from Spain’s Guardia Civil, which carried out the initial investigation back in 2006.

 

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Andrew Hood

Andrew Hood

Andrew Hood cut his journalistic teeth at Colorado dailies before the web boom opened the door to European cycling in the mid-1990s. Hood has covered every Tour de France since 1996 and has been VeloNews' European correspondent since 2002.

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